The pressure is building on Matilda’s coach Tony Gustavsson after his decision to play inexperienced players against seventh-ranked Spain led to the Australians’ worst defeat in decades.
After a spirited first half in which they conceded a single goal, the Matildas collapsed in the second to be pummeled 7-0 as they prepare for next year’s home FIFA Women’s World Cup.
The Swedish coach stuck to a plan to give opportunities to domestic players, resting key stars including skipper Sam Kerr, Alanna Kennedy, Caitlin Foord, Kyah Simon and Mary Fowler, for Saturday night’s match at the Estadio Nuevo Colombino in Huelva.
The wisdom of denying the Matildas some of their biggest and most experienced stars was questioned by commentators, adding to doubts about Gustavsson that have been growing since the Matildas were dumped from the Asian Cup in January’s quarter-finals, capping a poor record since he took over in 2020.
Spain took full advantage, running rampant in the dominant six-goal second half as more inexperienced players came on and the Matildas suffered their worst defeat in a quarter of a century.
“There’s probably going to be some reactions of ‘why did you play such a good team with such an inexperienced roster?’,” Gustavsson told reporters.
‘We need these answers’
“But I think we need these answers. Not short-term, and especially not for me – I’m going to be scrutinised now but it’s not about me – it’s about the long-term legacy, ’23 and beyond.
“Not just preparation for the World Cup but investments past that World Cup and I think the answers that we got now is a wake-up call for a lot of people.”
Gustavsson said he always intended to take a different approach to each half, introducing more inexperienced players later.
“I want to be clear now, this is not about blaming individual players for this loss. These players are more representing a situation we’re in right now,” he said.
“We finished the game with four players playing in the NPL and one player playing in college. And to expect those players to match up to Spain is not fair on the individuals.
“But I am ready to take that hit as a coach. I’ve said that from day one, we need answers and we need investment in our program.”
The match marked the return of forward Larissa Crummer for her first international in over two years following a serious leg break.
Cortnee Vine gained a start alongside Crummer and Brisbane Roar teammates Katrina Gorry and Emily Gielnik.
Defensively, youngsters Courtney Nevin and Charli Grant were paired alongside the experienced Tameka Yallop, who assumed the captaincy, and Clare Polkinghorne.
The tireless work of midfielders Clare Wheeler and Emily van Egmond helped keep Spain in check early and the Matildas went close to opening the scoring midway when Gorry hit the crossbar from 20 metres out midway through the first half.
Second half onslaught
Australia’s resistance was broken just before halftime with Bonmatí curling her edge-of-the-box shot past the outstretched arm of goalkeeper Teagan Micah.
A goal down at the break, Gustavsson introduced Jamilla Rankin for her international debut while Micah made way for Mackenzie Arnold and Princess Ibini made her return to Matlildas action.
Spain doubled their lead in the 48th minute and quickly followed with goals in the 53rd and 57th minutes.
Gustavsson made more changes with Remy Siemsen and Amy Sayer coming on in the 66th minute and Sydney FC’s Taylor Ray was introduced in the midfield in the 75th minute. Spain then added three late goals in the 81st, 89th and 90th minutes .
The Matildas will take on Portugal in the final match of the FIFA window on Tuesday in Estoril.